You all know that sometimes we like to give more independent projects some special coverage so people become aware that Indie games can actually be worth a look. Dear Esther is clearly one of these games, though it is actually not quite clear if it is really a video game per se. Known by the Half Life² community since 2008 when it was released as a free mod, the game has just been released on Steam in a new version and will only cost you €7.99 or $9.99. To find out if you should succumb to temptation, read our review and watch our exclusive video.
Dear Esther is like nothing you have ever seen or played before. It is indeed a unique narrative voyage where the player is told a mysterious story by an even more mysterious narrator who happens to be the main character. Who are you? How and why did you end up on this strange deserted island? Who is Esther? Who is Paul? Who is Donnelly? So many questions you will ask yourself while listening to the main character's randomized interventions. Questions you may actually never get a clear answer to, which makes the story all the more ambiguous. Don't expect to fully understand it in one playthrough, or even to come to the exact same conclusions as other players. Indeed, it's all about interpretation.
The paradox with Dear Esther is that it manages to make you lose yourself in its world and story while still proposing a very straightforward experience. The shores and caves you will explore will always point you in the right direction, though you will never be quite sure what makes you move forward and why you are doing it. Glimpses of the story are given from time to time as you progress through the desperate landscape, conveying a sense of despair, loss and solitude. Sadness can be felt at every corner, in each sentence, as well as in the moving soundtrack which will sometimes accompany you on your journey. Time stops, the slow pace being one of contemplation and introspection.
Dear Esther will either seduce you or leave you perplexed, which makes it so difficult to review. Everything about it seems to move it further away from the definition of a video game. All you have to do is basically walk around the enrapturing landscapes and discover the bits and pieces of a story which is full of contradictions. Because the dialog is randomized, Dear Esther invites you to play the game a few times to try to uncover the mystery but in the end, everything will be left to your own interpretation. And that is probably the beauty of it and why the game should be experienced more than talked about. Strange, sad, mesmerizing, these are some of the few adjectives that popped into my mind when playing. So yes, it may not be a game per se, but the 90 minutes or so necessary to complete the four chapters were really something. At least to me.